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Japan Sound Portrait Podcast 35

Japan Sound Portrait

Release Date: 04/18/2018

Here is a special edition of the Japan Sound Portrait podcast to celebrate a special week-long season on BBC Radio 3 called Night Blossoms, which will explore the mysterious, counter-cultural and unexpected side of Japanese music and arts across the station’s evening programmes, running from 21st to the 27th April.

The season will start on Saturday with a special edition of Between the Ears in which Nick will explore the essay In Praise of Shadows - a classic in the field of Japanese aesthetics by Junichiro Tanizaki.


This podcast collects together some echoes from Japan Sound Portrait to accompany some sound-related quotes from the essay, fuller versions of which are available below.

Featured music:

Nick Luscombe: Monomachi Theme
amoeba: Kanzeon Xap Mo Xnok Dub
Nick Luscombe & Robin The Fog: Monomachi Theme Remix
shinekosei: No

Many thanks to the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation for supporting research into this project.

Elsewhere in the Night Blossoms Season, Nick will be busy on Late Junction, with the week's programmes dedicated entirely to music from Japan, coupled with Nick's immersive recordings of the diverse and often unexpected soundscapes of Tokyo late at night. Our recent event at Spiritland will be broadcast on the Exposure programme on Thursday 26th April, and there will be special Japanese editions of all other evening programming throughout the week.


Sound-related extracts from Junichi Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows:

“……in a Nara or Kyoto temple…as I have said there are certain prerequisites: a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito. I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kanto region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones. And the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas.


“…had we invented the phonograph and the radio, how much more faithfully they would reproduce the special character of our voices and our music. Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost. In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement. Most important of all are the pauses. Yet the phonograph and radio render these moments of silence utterly lifeless. And so we distort the arts themselves to curry favour for them with the machines. “


“Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. It gives off no sound when it is crumpled or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.”


“Whenever I sit with a bowl of soup before me, listening to the murmur that penetrates like the far-off shrill of an insect, lost in contemplation of flavours to come, I feel as if I were being drawn into a trance. The experience must be something like that of the tea master who, at the sound of the kettle, is taken from himself as if upon the sigh of the wind in the legendary pines of Onoe (Hirakawa, Aomori).”

“The mysterious Orient of which Westerners speak probably refers to the uncanny silence of these dark places.”


Podcast image from Wikimedia Commons: ストリングのれん by Takashi Tomooka